Living in the country has incalculable benefits—fresh, clean air; Nature all around; space enough to do what you like, and the ability to survive the current pandemic crisis with a minimum of disruption.
If you live in rural America, your social distancing level is probably “expert.”
Supermarket shortages have become the norm of late, and it’s not like restaurants are open to fill your belly.
The bottom line? It’s time to step up and provide for ourselves.
Feed your family
We need to live more like our great-grandparents and work on being more self-sustainable.
Back in the Great Depression (and earlier, especially in the country), people ate the foods they had raised themselves. Fruits came from bushes, an orchard or fruit trees, vegetables grew in the garden and protein was raised in the form of chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, goats, and cattle.
Fruits were eaten out-of-hand or made into jelly; beans and peas were dried for later use; other vegetables were put up by canning and stored in a root cellar where it was cool and dark. (Today we can use dehydrators or if you are really serious, freeze-dryers.)
The term “butter-and-egg money” was cash Grandma earned selling off these items—and more—when she produced more than could be consumed in timely fashion.
When you grow your own food, you know where it comes from, how it was produced, and whether it contains unpronounceable stabilizers and preservatives (which it won’t). Consequently, all these fruits and vegetables will be healthier to eat, and better for you.
Growing a year’s food
We reached out to Melissa K. Norris, who writes her Pioneering Today blog from 15 acres in the North Cascade mountain range of Washington state, two hours northeast of Seattle. She’s all about self-sufficiency, raising 100% of her family’s own meat, 75% of their fruit, and 50% of the vegetables they eat.
“Back in the pioneer days as well as the Great Depression, most families grew some of their own food,” Melissa says, “and many of them relied solely or almost solely on what they’d grown and preserved to feed themselves through the winter.”
How much do you need to grow to make it through the year? First, she recommends taking a look at three important aspects:
• The amount of land you have available, and soil quality
• Aspects of your growing season—length and amount of heat and rainfall
• Whether your family will actually eat what can be grown
Melissa offers a worksheet in her book “The Family Garden Plan” which also is available directly from a website, familygardenplan.com.
In general, a home garden can provide a substantial amount of vegetables in a plot as small as 25 x 50 feet, particularly if you use your head and plant varieties that yield multiple fruits—i.e. onion sets just grow bigger onions, but a zucchini plant can yield dozens of gourds in the same space.
The British website growveg.com reported research from the 1970s that around 4000 square feet is required to sustain one person on a vegetarian diet for a year, plus another 4000 square feet in access paths. That’s equal to a garden plot of 80 x 100 feet, or less than a quarter of an acre. A family of four may require an entire acre or more.
If you are a first-time or fair-weather gardener, most state extension services recommend starting small for the first year. Alternatively, choose raised beds, containers, and mounds for your first foray into gardening.
Just remember that the more you want to grow, the bigger your garden plot has to be to accommodate all the plants.
So, how much do I need?
Taking the first step to provide for your family will require disciplined planning, a lot of (very rewarding) preparation, and dedication to all that is involved in working in a garden from last snowfall to first freeze.
Plus, you have to be diligent in canning or putting up most of what you grow for later.
Using her own family as a guide, Melissa’s basic per-person guidelines:
Dry beans—15 plants
Snap or fresh beans (pole varieties)—10 to 15 plants
Potatoes—10 to 15 plants
Tomatoes—5 plants, depending on varieties and your uses
Winter squash—1 to 2 plants per variety
Summer Squash, including zucchini—1 to 2 plants per variety
Cucumber plants—6 to 9 plants
“With our pole beans I plant approximately a total of 30 plants (3 bean plants on each 6 foot pole with 3 poles to a teepee, so 9 plants for each teepee) and from that I can about 50 to 60 jars of green beans, eat them fresh through the season, and save for both seed and as a dry bean over 200 beans.”
Victory Gardens were first promoted in World War I to encourage healthy eating. For WWII, as many as 20 million families learned to grow much of their own food, helping the war effort by saving prepared foods for troops.
Don’t forget to add some spice to your food, too. Per-person plantings include:
Garlic—15 bulbs (she used about 50 for the family)
Peppers—2 plants per variety
Of course there are spices you can grow, like parsley, mint, oregano, and basil. These are “evergreen” producers until winter kill, so it’s possible to stock up on a supply through the growing season. If you have a greenhouse, it may be possible to keep plants going all year long.
What about protein?
While beans are probably the best sources of carbohydrates and protein grown in the garden, we can’t overlook the importance of raising your own livestock. AcreageLife will be looking at this in future issues, so stay tuned.
For now, you can gather an incredible amount of protein from your chickens‚ their eggs! Backyard chicken-keepers have known this for years, but maybe it’s time to get some of your own.
Until you have a large enough flock to sustain your family—the basic rule of thumb is three chickens for every two members of your family—it is possible to gather eggs from your hen-raising neighbors. (They probably have extras, but you will undoubtedly have to buy the eggs.)
Just keep in mind that fresh eggs that are refrigerated last 4 to 5 weeks at best. Pro tip from the American Egg Board: For longer storage, beat whole eggs just until blended, pour into freezer containers, seal the containers tightly, label with the number of eggs and the date and freeze for up to 1 year.